Ehikhamenor, Asidere engage artists in beyond the canvas
It was a gathering aimed at giving a new perspective to art and its professionalism in 21st Century. Hosted by Duke Asidere’s Play Spot Studios, the event themed, Beyond the Canvas featured Victor Ehikhamenor as guest speaker and Tajudeen Sowole as moderator.
The Play Spot Studios was launched in September 2012 in Egbeda, Lagos. Created as a convergence for artists to interact via workshops, open studio and seminars, the facility has been very active ever since, hosting artists from across Lagos and beyond.
Late last year, Asideremoved the studio to Gbagada.
Ehikhamenor started the event by telling the audience that he doesn’t “believe in prescriptions” as regards the creation of art and its business side.
Noting that the event was a two-way benefit for him and the audience to learn from one another, he said, “nobody knows it all.”
He shared his story of how he started drawing at the age of four in his village, Udomi-Uwessan, Edo State. “When my mate were writing, I was drawing.”
He showed the audience some of his drawings done between four and 11 years old. “This was what I did on my first drawing book. I actually stumbled on it few days ago. My school testimonial reads: ‘Culture activist’.
“Not everybody knows your trajectory, but only meets you when you have arrived. I nicknamed myself Bob Artist as a kid. The first challenge for me was getting admission to a secondary school that had no art teacher. At 13, in class 3, I wanted a school far away from my area, where there was an art teacher against the wishes of my parents. They wanted to protect me from going to boarding school where it was believed I wouldn’t be treated well. But that was the only school that had art teacher.
“At Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, where I studied English and Literature, my first three years was doing illustration for school’s journals, he said.
“I came to Lagos during the Abacha era and chose to be doing postcards and cartoons. Next, I travelled to the UK where I got bored; so, I moved to the U.S. I looked for jobs from where I got money and started buying art materials and experimented with so many without any prior knowledge of how to use them.”
According to the artist, “in the U.S, I met Bernard Brooks, an American artist, whom I apprenticed under. From him, I learnt about materials and how to engage collectors and organise exhibitions.”
He said, “in 1997/98, I had exhibition with Brooks. Right from day one, I knew I was not ready to do art and start selling prints like craft makers, as I saw a lot artists did then in the U.S. After learning Information Technology (IT) in the U.S. and got a job at National Geographic, I used the opportunity to start selling my works to the staff. Eighty per cent of my collectors are my immediate friends. This format has been my business model. Yes, not all of them may like my work, but there are those who do.”
For him,”collectors don’t always respond to you as expected. A collector followed me for five years before he surprised me and came to see my show in U.S. and bought so many works.”
From English and literature to IT, the only profession that he identified himself with more was art. “And that’s the only thing that people know me for,” he retorted.
Before announcing a break at the event, Sowole highlighted areas of focus that would be deliberated upon. They include, how the value of artists having a second profession or skill has helped Victor’s career. He also advised that artists should create their own doors to be successful.
In analysing Ehikhamenor’s advice of ‘creating’ own door, Sowole cited example of Damien Hirst, the controversial British artist, whose unprecedented solo art auction in 2008, changed the British art market.
Other areas of highlights from the talk, according to the moderator, include, “work habit, business of art, exchange of value between artist and the collector in other non-art fields, investing in the future by building other artists, and fear of artist in experimental work.”
Sowole also listed other highlights of Victor’s speech to include, “traveling and experiencing other environments, adding value to artist’s country through being patriotic by promoting ‘your’ country, artist as collector; and urging artists to go into exchange to appreciate other artists’ works to know how collectors feel about your work.”
After the break, the interactive session started with a question from one of the participants who asked whether friendship came first or collecting art as regards the 80 per cent claim of Ehikhamenor’s collectors being his friends.
“Friends first before becoming collectors and others were collectors and later, friends,” the artist replied. Also discussed were issues such as artists collecting art, getting family members to appreciate the artist’s nuances as being an artist can be challenging, among others.
The host and founder of Play Spot Studios, after sharing a brief history of how the event was put together within a short period, thanked Ehikhamenor, Sowole and other participants for making the talk possible.
Asidere described the guest speaker as an “artist who didn’t read art, but whose works are defining and playing a great impact round the world.”